Ditch Your Rosé: Orange Wine Is Burning Hot


Orange wine is something I feel I have read about more often than I have seen it in the past few years. It is definitely not on every wine list I encounter nor is it taking up a lot of shelf space in the places where I buy wine. When the opportunity for a taste has arisen usually as a temporary novelty on a wine bar list, I am always eager to try it; sometimes I’ve loved it and other times I’ve been more neutral. Whether the orange wine trend will continue to grow is still under discussion but, as a style, it seems to be here to stay. Recently, I made a point to seek out as many orange wines as I could find in my own market and collect my thoughts on the wines that are available now.
The type of wine that I’m talking about is not a fruit wine made from oranges or infused with orange juice in any way. It is a style of winemaking that is often described as a more natural way of making wine. The main idea is that the white grapes macerate with their skins and seeds for a certain time period in the same way that red wines do. This imparts the golden to amber color to these wines leading to the commonly used name of “orange wine”.

This extended maceration time naturally creates sulfides that help protect the wine from oxida-tion while imparting more texture and flavor to the wine while deepening the color. While there has not been an agreed upon “how to” list for the production of orange wines beyond the extended skin contact, many quality producers of orange wine seem to follow certain protocol. The wines are typically neither fined nor filtered and little to no sulfur is added during production. The wines are often created from native yeasts and aged in old wooden barrels or clay vessels called qvevri which are lined with beeswax and buried underground for temperature control.

Extended skin contact may mean days, weeks or months.

While this may be a new trend for modern wine drinkers, the process itself is based in the ancient winemaking of the country of Georgia where it is believed there has been continuous wine production for over 8,000 years. Josko Gravner, a producer in Italy’s Fruili region began researching and adapting his modern winemaking style to this classic approach in the ‘90s and numerous other producers in his area and around the world have since followed suit.

This winemaking technique tends to produce wines in a range of colors from yellow to coppery or tawny brown, all will not appear “orange”. The type of grape and length of maceration and aging will also determine the depth of color. The wines are sometimes cloudy due to the lack of fining or filtration. The wines tend to have a fuller body and richer texture than is typically seen with white wine made from more conventional techniques, some have an oxidized or Sherry-like character. The wines have a more red wine-like tannic structure with nutty and honeyed aromas and flavors. All the wines that I tasted were dry and tasted best when served at cellar tempera-ture. I recommend pairing this type of wine with young, semi-soft cheese, charcuterie, vegetable dishes, mushroom risotto or simply prepared seafood.

Here are some recommended wines for you to try:

2004 Gravner Anfora Bianco Breg - A Venezia Giulia IGT wine, this was produced by the iconic style maker himself, Josko Gravner from a blend of white grapes, primarily Sauvignon Blanc with Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico in a traditional Georgian terra-cotta qvevri jar. This full bodied wine was an amber color in the glass. It had good acidity and it showed primarily nutty aromas with apricot and orange zest, a bit of earth and a light honeysuckle floral note with a bit of that Sherry-like oxidized quality. It had dried tropical fruit flavors with some citrus and nut-meg and an extended mineral laced finish. Approximately $130 a bottle.

2011 Zidarich Vitovska - Also from the Venezia Giulia IGT, this wine was made from Vitovska grapes which are primarily found in northeastern Italy and Slovenia. Golden colored in the glass, this wine was very aromatically intense and flavorful. Full bodied, richly textured with fresh acidi-ty. It had aromas and flavors of marmalade, honey and salty nuts with ripe tangerine and peach through the long, slightly savory finish. Approximately $55 a bottle.

2012 Kante Vitovska - Same area and grape as above, it was a golden color in the glass, this wine was also full bodied and richly textured with refreshing acidity. It had a baked pear character with baking spice, honey and a bit of smokiness in the long mineral finish. Approximately $45 a bottle.

2012 Coenobium Ruscum - This blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Verdicchio is a product of Cistercian nuns in Lazio, Italy. A slightly cloudy lemon-yellow in the glass, this wine was medium-bodied with good acidity and a creamy texture. It had more subdued aromas on opening. It evolves into floral honeysuckle over apple cider with a touch of dried herbs with a long citrus finish. Approximately $39 a bottle. (Honorable mention for the 2012 Coenobium Lazio Bianco with its interesting pumpernickel, crackers and citrus character, a bit more viscous, only $32 a bottle).

2010 Movia Rebula - This wine was created by a biodynamic producer in Slovenia from Ribolla-Gialla grapes. It was a pale amber color in the glass. It was full bodied with refreshing acidity with aromas and flavors of apple tart and caramel with a bit of a citrus blossom nuance and a long, nutty finish. Approximately $35 a bottle.

2010 Cantina Giardino Gaia Campania Fiano- This southern Italian wine was a hazy, pale yellow in the glass with a full body and good acidity. It had a yeasty, apple cider quality with a bit of honeysuckle and a long citrus and mineral finish. Approximately $30 a bottle.

2012 Matthiasson Napa Valley Ribolla Gialla Matthiasson Vineyard - The Ribolla Gialla budwood originated from Josko Gravner. He shared it with Napa winemaker George Vare and, eventually, it was also grafted into Steve Matthiasson’s home vineyard where it is organically managed. This wine was a hazy lemon-yellow in the glass. It was dry, medium+ bodied with ripe peach, apple and tangerine with hazelnuts and a touch of spice in the finish. Approximately $30 a bottle.

Sandra Crittenden publishes Wine Thoughts, a Houston-based wine blog. She writes a recurrent printed wine feature for Galveston Monthly magazine and contributes to other publications such as Edible Hou-ston in a freelance capacity. Sandra has served as a wine judge for the Houston Livestock Show & Ro-deo International Wine Competition since 2011. Sandra strives to stay current with the world of wine through industry and trade tastings. She is active with the Houston Sommelier Association and the Guild of Sommeliers. An avid traveler, Sandra is always up to visit someplace new. She lives near Houston, Texas, with her husband and her cat. She has two children who live away at college. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the Houston wine and food scene and trying to perfect her headstand.

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